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Migration Is The Main Cause Of Decrease In Sikh Population In India

By Dr. Sawraj Singh

The religion-based census figures of India have just been released. The proportion of the Sikh population has decreased in India. This has generated a big concern in Sikh circles. I feel migration is the main cause for this situation. In the first census of 1951, the Sikhs formed 1.74% of India’s population; in 1961: 1.79%; in 1971: 1.8%; and in 1981: 1.96%. After 1981, the proportion of the Sikh population started decreasing: in 1991: 1.94%; in 2001: 1.87%; and in 2011, it has decreased to 1.72%. This is the lowest percentage after the independence. If we correlate these figures with the numbers of Sikhs migrating from India to other countries, then a direct relationship between the two can be established. It was after 1981 that the migration of the Sikhs to other countries started increasing.

I would like to share a personal experience which I feel will prove my point. About four years ago, we went to the American embassy in Delhi to renew my son’s passport. While waiting outside the embassy, we talked to the other people who were also waiting there. We felt that more than 90% of the people were Punjabis, and out of them, more than 90% appeared to be from the Jat Sikh community. Some people feel that the Jat Sikhs now form about 17% of the population of Punjab. Punjabis form a little more than 2% of India’s population. Therefore, the Jat Sikhs should form less than 0.5% of India’s population. However, In India’s capitol, we felt that more than 80% of the people waiting to get the American visa belonged to this community. I feel these numbers are showing us that the Jat Sikhs, who are the leading community of the Sikhs, are not just migrating to other countries, but the magnitude of this migration can only be called an Exodus. I feel that this situation is the main cause of the decrease in the Sikh population in India.

We have not been able to evolve a realistic and balanced approach toward migration. For this situation, the intellectual class of Punjab seems to be the one which should be blamed the most. They have adopted a very superficial and irresponsible approach toward a very serious problem and have been unable to adopt an impartial, independent, serious or sincere approach. Each section of this class appears to have done only a self-serving analysis. How this large scale migration is affecting Punjab and Punjabis has been almost completely ignored. Most of the intellectuals have not been able to shed narrow individualism and selfishness while analyzing the problems. They want to mostly tell what people want to hear in return for some individual gains such as getting free airplane tickets or having a good time when visiting foreign countries. Some just want the overseas Punjabis to help them in settling their children abroad.

The others are not true intellectuals but are pseudo-intellectuals who are unable to understand the reality. They end up presenting an unbalanced and one-sided picture about the migration. They have been unable to go against the flow and have been carried away by the flow. They do not seem to understand the fact that intellectuals have a moral duty of not being carried away by the visible reality just like other people. They should try to go beyond the obvious and understand the trends which are emerging and help people to understand those trends. At present, their opportunistic stand on this phenomenon is not only justifying migration, but is actually glorifying it. The radical Sikhs blame the center for discriminating against Punjab and the Sikhs, and that is the root cause of the problem. All the sections seem to agree that the economic causes are responsible for the situation. They blame unemployment, lack of proper opportunities, stagnation in agriculture (which forms the basis of Punjab’s economy), and decreasing landholding of the peasantry (which makes many of them practically landless), and for many, agriculture is no longer a profitable occupation which can sustain them.

Saying that only economic factors are responsible for migration is an oversimplification, just like attempting to rediscover the wheel. While it is true that economic factors play a very big role in migration, yet these are not the only factors. This is a much more complicated problem. Let us look at some of the facts. The Sikhs are leading in migration out of India. However, they are not economically more deprived than the followers of other religions. As a matter of fact, Sikhs are one of the most affluent groups in India. Similarly, economic factors alone do not explain why Jat Sikhs are more prone to migrate. Some may say that this is because they are a peasant community and are facing a bigger crisis than urban communities. However, if we compare the Jat Sikh peasantry to the non-Jat peasantry in Punjab, then it becomes obvious that Jat Sikhs are much more likely to migrate than non-Jats. One has to conclude that there are definitely cultural factors beside economic factors which are responsible for migration to other countries.

Punjabis are far more likely to migrate than people from other states. Even now, Punjab cannot be considered the most economically deprived state in the country. Punjabis are quite well off compared to people of other states. Punjab has a little more than 2% of India’s population, yet Punjabis own more than 8% of the cars in India. The same can be said about ownership of TVs, refrigerators, air conditioners, smart phones and other consumer items. It can be easily concluded that Punjab is the epicenter of consumerism in India. Another interesting fact is that if we could publish caste-based census figures along with religion-based figures, then the situation will become very clear that the decrease in the Sikh population is primarily due to a large scale migration of the Jat Sikh community. The other Sikh communities have not significantly decreased. Let us look at the decreasing Jat Sikh population in Punjab. Even though exact statistics are not available, yet it is many people’s educated guess that in 1981, the Jat Sikhs constituted about 34% of Punjab’s population. The Sikh population started to decrease after that. At present, some people think that the Jat Sikh population is about 17% of Punjab’s population. A clear relationship of decrease in the Sikh population to decrease in the Jat Sikh population can be established.

Even though more work is needed to fully understand the causes and effects of migration, yet one thing is clear: migration is not an economic matter alone and cultural factors are also playing a major role. Punjabi culture significantly changed after the Green Revolution. The Green Revolution, in reality, was an alliance of the rich peasants of Punjab with the U. S. imperialism. The rich peasantry of Punjab was transformed into a capitalist class and got integrated with the global capitalist market. Punjab adopted consumer culture of the western capitalists in a big way. One very significant difference of Punjab than the rest of India is that while the western consumer culture became the dominant culture in all of the big metropolitan areas, yet in Punjab the rural areas also became its victims. This phenomenon has made Punjab the epicenter of consumer culture in India and perhaps in the whole world. I have been to many parts of the world and had opportunity to interact with many communities of the world. It is very hard to match Punjabis’ enthusiasm for consumerism.

The level and speed of erosion of culture and values, and the resultant social instability seen in Punjabis is unparalleled. If there were Olympic gold medals for cultural erosion, loss of values, disintegration of family and social instability, I have very little doubt that Punjabis and the Punjab would not excel. I feel these factors have also played a very big role in the increased migration of Punjabis and the decrease in the Sikh population in India. I feel we should adopt a balanced, sincere and serious approach to fully understanding the problem and challenges faced by Punjab, the Punjabis and the Sikhs.

Dr. Sawraj Singh, MD F.I.C.S. is the Chairman of the Washington State Network for Human Rights and Chairman of the Central Washington Coalition for Social Justice. He can be reached at sawrajsingh@hotmail.com.

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